A broader perspective on PCB design

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Overcoming common mistakes in printed circuit board design with sustainability in mind.

With more than 25 years’ experience in the printed circuit board (PCB) industry, Matt Surman, CAM Engineer at NCAB Group, has supported thousands of technical queries in this field. As he says, “more often that not, there are boards that need to be modified for the best outcome.”

To this end, NCAB’s engineers work closely with its customer base as early on in the design process as possible to ensure the company gets it right from the start. This is one of its unique selling points, the company says, which it has heavily invested in to ensure best practices throughout its global network.

According to Surman, the most common PCB design mistakes are as follows:

  • Annular ring issues
  • Plated Through Hole (PTH) to copper
  • Non-Plated Through Hole (NPTH) slots to copper
  • Holes located on the edge of the surface mound device (SMD) pad, or very close to the SMD
  • Trace width and isolation spacing does not work with the selected base copper foil thickness
  • Stubs (unterminated traces) on the copper layers
  • Slivers and same net spacing in the copper layers
  • Copper to edge – distance between copper features and profile
  • Improper SMD/BGA pads design
  • Soldermask is oversized or lack of oversize in the same design
  • Soldermask bridge or web too small
  • Coverage of the soldermask
  • Legend print problems

Surman explains, “We see an array of PCBs daily that we can support the customer on to bring the PCB up to the spec which allows the PCB to become best form, fit and function.” As nothing affects the PCB’s total cost and reliability as much as the initial design, NCAB has created various PCB design tools to help its customers during the PCB design and production process.

  • PCB Design Checklist
  • PCB Design Guidelines
  • PCB Cost Drivers
  • PCB Design Tips

With these tools, NCAB hopes to deliver more intelligence to the industry as part of an ongoing project that will support design engineers in their daily work.


Many engineers today are not only focusing on design for manufacture, but also on design for sustainability. The NCAB Cost Drivers tool provides a sustainability impact meter for engineers to assess these parameters, which are now becoming increasingly important in our daily lives. The aim of the sustainability meter, developed by the company’s technical team, is to allow for easy visualisation of the environmental impact at top-level.

Sustainability has become an integral aspect of NCAB’s business practices. Over the past decade, the company has worked with its selected factories to promote more sustainable production.


“Our journey has only just begun,” says Surman. “This is a long process for achieving a more sustainable PCB. Lots of hazardous chemicals are being used in volume PCB manufacturing today. Alongside power and water, there are many levels to Scope 3, and we have a team dedicated not just for sustainability but also a team of 60 people on the technical council who are looking at emerging technologies as alternatives to the traditional etching method that we see today. This is many years away due to one major factor being the millions of dollars needed by factories to encompass new technologies.


“End customer applications also need to prove these new technologies, especially if in applications such as medical, security systems, aerospace, and automotive, where safety is paramount. It is the whole supply chain that will need to be re-shored to lower the impact on the environment from PCB manufacturing. Success only comes from continued strategic alignment with the UN’s sustainabile Development Goals and defining how to transpose them into the everyday elements of the business, growing and incubating relationship with suppliers, stakeholders and customers, as every aspect of the business holds some level of accountability and responsibility.”


Alongside the work NCAB does within its factories, design processes, and business practices, the company is also mindful of other areas where it can make a positive impact. “Re-educating our network, alongside welcoming new talent into the industry, is paramount for us,” Surman adds. “It not only enhances the overall efficiency and reduces costs, but it also results in a more sustainable PCB. This is the direction we need to and have to work towards, and the sense of urgency to act is upon us.”

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